A Simple Morality Tale, Infused With Heart, of Twins Reunited

By Michael J. Toscano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

"Blood Brothers," with story and music by Willy Russell ("Educating Rita," "Shirley Valentine"), is another hit for the Elden Street Players as they make their annual summer trip into the land of musical theater. They're advertising the show as a "community theater premiere," and it has been flying somewhat under the radar, though it has been one of the longest-running shows in London's West End and had a successful Broadway run a few seasons back.

This is a tale of twins separated at birth, one staying with his impoverished, loving mother and her brood, the other raised as a son by a scheming, well-to-do woman and her hapless husband. Fate intervenes, drawing the two boys together, and they become the closest of friends, unaware of their deeper bond. But tragedy awaits as they grow to young manhood against a backdrop of class conflict played out in the economically foundering Liverpool of the 1960s.

Russell has written a straightforward morality tale set to fairly simple music that takes on the sounds of period British pop tunes, run through a 1980s Andrew Lloyd Webber filter. With a simplistic story and score, "Blood Brothers" should not be anything special.

But Russell has crafted a piece that, in the right hands, can create a thickly emotional atmosphere to draw even the most cynical theatergoers into its charms. Director Gloria DuGan's hands are eminently the right ones, leaving audiences alternately choked up and enthralled.

This production has brought one of the D.C. area's top musical theater performers, Andy Izquierdo, to Herndon for the first time and paired him with relative newcomer Josh Doyle, who has been lighting up Fairfax County stages the past few seasons, including two shows with the Elden Street Players this season.

Izquierdo, who summons up a dark and brooding intensity, and Doyle, who exudes sunny cheer, are perfectly cast as twins Mickey and Eddie, playing them from childhood to maturity. Having adults play children is usually off-putting, but it works well here because both Izquierdo and Doyle stress the child from within, rather than relying solely on physicality.

Doyle's hearty tenor and Izquierdo's achingly clear baritone soar, with other musical highlights coming from the mothers. Anita Miller, as poor Mrs. Johnstone, and Kat Brais, as rich Mrs. Lyons, break hearts with the poignant "My Child," as one wishes for a child and the other agonizes over giving one up.

Other cast standouts include Kristen Garaffo as plucky gal pal Linda and Michael Sherman as poor Eddie's older brother, Sammy, who shows what Sonny Corleone must have been like as a kid.

Also worthy of comment is the work of Nano Gowland, performing flawlessly, although in a poorly conceived part that diminishes the dramatic impact of the story. Gowland is a spectral Narrator, made up to look either like Fagin from Dickens or Slash from Guns N' Roses, depending on your point of reference, and he appears with increasing frequency to remind everyone that tragedy is about to descend. Just one omen would have been plenty, but Russell trots him out so often that it makes the fate anticlimactic.

Gowland revels in the juicy role, prowling the stage and returning again and again to a haunting musical refrain about evil superstition.

Another recurring musical motif is a sprightly number referring to Marilyn Monroe, a symbol of the promise and tragedy that are central to this story. The score is performed by a seven-piece, five-musician band hidden behind curtains and directed energetically by David Rohde, who is overly reliant on a synthesizer that cheapens the music. Mitch Bassman, however, provides some evocative saxophone passages that almost make up for the irritating fake sounds.

This is a show overflowing with atmosphere and rich performances, and even if the nurture-vs.-nature themes don't grab the audience, its heart certainly will.

"Blood Brothers" continues on weekends through Aug. 19, with a performance Aug. 17, by the Elden Street Players at Industrial Strength Theatre, 269 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon. Showtime is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Aug. 17. For tickets, call 703-481-5930. For information, visithttp://www.eldenstreetplayers.org.

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